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Eastern, Southern Africa scale up efforts against high AIDS prevalence – UN official

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19 January 2012 – Eastern and Southern Africa, the region most affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, is making great strides to scale up access to prevention and treatment services, a United Nations official said today, adding that focus is on behavioural change and prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Of the estimated 34 million people living with HIV/AIDS across the world, almost three quarters live in Eastern and Southern Africa, Sheila Tlou, the Director of the Regional Support Team for the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) told a media briefing in Geneva.

“We have to now focus on making sure that we scale up voluntary medical male circumcision, behaviour change, and all those [interventions] to make sure that we reduce infections,” she said.

She stated that even in South Africa, where an estimated 5.6 million people are infected, the Government has scaled up prevention measures and is politically committed to turning the tide against the epidemic, including reducing mother-to-child transmission (MTCT).

“A lot has been in countries in Eastern and Southern Africa on mother-to-child infections,” said Ms Tlou. “Our services to prevent mother-to-children transmission are more than 77 per cent – that region is leading in terms of scaling up of services,” she said.

She, however, stressed that for a country to succeed in reducing transmission of the HIV virus to newly-born infants, MTCT coverage must be at least 90 per cent. “And we know it can be done – in Botswana we brought down mother-to-children infections from 40 per cent to 4 per cent in less than 4 years,” said Ms. Tlou.

The majority of the estimated 15 million HIV-infected people eligible for of anti-retroviral treatments also reside in Eastern and Southern Africa, and it is crucial that access to treatment there also be scaled up. Some 4.2 million area already receiving treatment, while 3.4 need to be put on anti-retroviral drugs, she added.

The Asia and Pacific region has seen a 20 per cent reduction in new infections over the past 10 years and access to treatment has more than double, according to Steve Kraus, the Director of UNAIDS Regional Support Team for the region.

“What drives the epidemic in Asia, in broad strokes you can say, is key affected populations – people who buy and sell sex, those who inject drugs, transgender populations and their intimate partners,” said Mr. Kraus.

The success of efforts to combat the epidemic in Asia-Pacific are dependent of the quality of partnership and collaboration with those groups, he said.